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Moving Ahead

BGI is taking on a number of large-scale sequencing projects like the Million Human Genome Project, the Million Plant and Animal Genomes Project, and the Million Microecosystems Genomes Project, Michael Specter writes in the New Yorker. He adds that the company hopes that these and other projects may help researchers understand the origins of humans, uncover the genetic source of diseases like autism, and increase crop output.

"We want to translate all of these scientific findings into our daily lives, including our economy, industry, health, and environment," Ming Qi, the chief scientist of BGI's health division, tells Specter.

The company is also tackling a more controversial topic with its Cognitive Genomics project that is studying the DNA of people with IQs topping 150 points to examine the genetic basis of intelligence, Specter notes. While BGI adds that this project is small and just one of many projects it has, Specter adds that this focus makes other researchers, particularly ones in the West, nervous.

"In twenty to forty years, at least in the developed world, most babies could be conceived through in vitro fertilization, so that their parents can choose among embryos," Hank Greely, the director of Stanford Law School's Center for Law and the Biosciences, says. "That way, the parents or someone else can select among a limited number of embryos with the combination of genes they most want to see in their offspring. It's going to happen. And China will have fewer cultural and legal barriers to it than we will see in the United States."

The work, Chris Chang, a visiting scholar at BGI, has other implications as well, such as garnering a better idea of how the brain works.

"We will have to make difficult ethical choices," he tells the New Yorker. "But don't ignore the enormous potential of this research. At some point, though I don't know when, people will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about."